Yoghurt has been associated with long lifespan ever since the renowned Russian scientist Dr Metchnikoff (1845-1919) claimed it was responsible for the longevity of the Bulgarians in the early 1900s. Metchnikoff believed the ‘friendly' live Lactobacillus bacteria in yoghurt (which today we call probiotics) exerted a key influence on our intestines. Certainly yoghurt's ‘partial pre-digestion' makes it more easily digested and absorbed than milk.
Eating yoghurt rather than milk means your body takes in more of its protein, B vitamins (particularly riboflavin needed for healthy skin and eyes) and calcium which helps prevent osteoporosis, important for women after the menopause.
Packed with calcium, protein and B vitamins (especially riboflavin, a B vitamin needed for healthy skin and eyes), yoghurt offers the nutrients of milk but in a more concentrated form. For example, in terms of calcium, a 200g carton of yoghurt - plain or fruit - is equivalent to drinking a 250ml glass of milk.
For women and teenage girls, who need plenty of calcium to build strong bones and ward off osteoporosis, yoghurt is a must-eat food.
In addition, yoghurt is more easily digested and absorbed than milk due to ‘partial pre-digestion' by its bacteria. Studies show the protein, fat and lactose it contains are better absorbed and the calcium is more available.
People with lactose intolerance are more likely to tolerate yoghurt than milk. During yoghurt making, the bacteria partly break down the milk sugar lactose, turning it into lactic acid which imparts yoghurt's sour taste.
On top of that, the carbohydrate in yoghurt is slowly absorbed, producing only a modest rise in blood glucose levels, which makes it a filling low GI snack or dessert for anyone with diabetes.
Research shows that when cutting calories to lose weight, 3 servings of milk, cheese or yogurt each day actually help people burn more fat and lose more weight than just cutting calories alone. The mix of nutrients found in dairy foods, especially calcium, may be responsible for helping the body break down and burn fat.
Many yoghurts now advertise that they contain probiotics, a term that means ‘for life'. It refers to special live bacteria that can help us stay healthy. These probiotics may well be the key to yoghurt's healthful properties.
While all yoghurts contain acidophilus and bifidus bacteria (known simply as a/B cultures), if you're really serious about probiotics, you'll need to buy one of the well-researched types like Vaalia or Yakult. Both of these can show that their particular bacteria is able to survive the journey through the upper digestive tract in sufficient numbers and reach the large intestine where they can then multiply and attach there.
10g protein, trace of fat, 16g sugars (all naturally occurring from lactose or milk sugar), no starch, no dietary fibre and 566 kilojoules (135 calories).
5% protein, 1% fat, 8% sugars, no starch, no dietary fibre and 283 kilojoules (67 calories).